Going into Tottenham Hotspur’s 0-0 draw with QPR during the weekend, you couldn’t help but feel that for whatever the eventual result, it’d be a relief to simply get the game – and the media pantomime that surrounded it – over and out the way with.
But while supporters will be glad to finally shelve the looming shadow of Harry Redknapp and the ever-present media comparisons with new boss Andre Villas-Boas, there was one particular theme that simply refused to evaporate for the men from White Hart Lane.
In what’s become an increasing frustrating sub-plot to Tottenham’s season so far, Villas-Boas’ side were yet again unable to break down a stubborn, yet ultimately limited side as they stumbled to a goalless draw at Loftus Road on Saturday. And as we head at a canter through January, it’s beginning to look increasingly uncertain as to whether the side are going to be able to solve this issue through means of player recruitment.
Of course, while their league position may give credence to labeling Harry Redknapp’s side as limited, there was certainly nothing limited in the way they performed to shut out the Lilywhites over 90 minutes. A superb performance in between the sticks by Julio Cesar was further complimented by an inspired Ryan Nelsen holding the line in front of him as the recently appointed Toronto FC manager coaxed the rest of his back four to a clean sheet.
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Yet for all the Rs’ grit and will to survive, it was yet another display of the frustrating underbelly to what’s been a positive and encouraging season so far for Spurs and Villas-Boas.
For all the side’s difficulty to find success against teams set out to defend, there often feels like there’s a small section of support that would still manage to pick holes in Andre Villas-Boas should he even seal a Premier League title. Considering Tottenham went into Saturday’s game winning five out of their previous six games in all competitions, it feels remarkable that some can be so stringing in their critique against a side that still ultimately sit three points clear in fourth spot in the league.
Indeed, for wherever you stand on the acrimony and affection that sits towards Harry Redknapp in contrasting divisions of the N17 support, it remains worth noting that Spurs came away from Loftus Road with one point more than which they did last season.
But while Villas-Boas might have bettered Redknapp in terms of that result, on this occasion it was Redknapp who came away from the game far happier with the final outcome. And in many ways, for all the tactical change and shift in philosophy that the club have undergone Villas-Boas, many fans came away from the game on Saturday feeling little different to how they did in the same fixture last term.
Because whereas last season it was the duo of Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart that toiled behind Jermain Defoe in an effort to break down the walls at Loftus Road, this time the England striker had Emmanuel Adebayor and Mousa Dembele as the supporting cast. Despite gaining a point more, the outcome was disappointingly similar.
Many have been keen to observe that the stalling partnership of Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor certainly didn’t do Andre Villas-Boas’ side any favours and it has to be said that the Portuguese had his front two playing incredibly deep at times during the game – no doubt catalysed by the hard working QPR defence.
But for all the malaise that’s been building towards Emmanuel Adebayor, which given his recent performances is hardly unjustified, it’s what’s going on behind the front pairing – be that Defoe on his own, Adebayor on his own, or the two as a partnership – that’s continuing to harm Spurs at times this season.
Given how superbly Mousa Dembele has performed this season, supporters can forgive him for the tough afternoon he handled at the hands of QPR and in particular, Stephane M’Bia. But yet again, for all his sharp movement and astute passing alongside Sandro in the engine room, you can’t help but feel too much is being expected of the Belgian in this Tottenham side.
Dembele can’t be expected to be the side’s metronome, attacking catalyst, the glue that sticks the defensive unit to the attacking one and the man to play the killer ball and it’s within that last point that Tottenham seem to have a real niggling issue.
The Lilywhites went into the game against QPR having created more opportunities from open play than anyone else in the league (240) which you could argue presses the need for a new striker. But in contrast to that, they’ve also produced more shots outside of the box than anyone else in the league, with 56% of their efforts coming from outside of the penalty area.
And it’s in games against the likes of QPR that this really feels particularly prominent. As we’ve seen against Stoke City, large parts of the Wigan game and even the 1-0 win against Swansea City at home, Spurs have looked positive and comfortable in possession, yet all too often that possession has carried little in the way of a threat.
The school of thought seems to be that a shiny new striker is the answer to all of Spurs’ issues and let’s make no mistake about it, the side are in need of a new man up front. But they need a creative force in midfield just that little bit more. Because the services of a Damiao or a Negeredo will count for very little if the stop-start level of service at White Hart Lane continues. Should that not be addressed this month, both Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson are going to have to find another gear that currently seems unattainable.